In recognition of National Economic Development Week, held May 8-14, the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders honored the work of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) for its economic development efforts in Monmouth County. The board made a special point to recognize FMERA for its work in finding commercial businesses that believe there are opportunities to revitalize Fort Monmouth, a former Army post that closed in 2011.
In 2005, when the Department of Defense announced the closing of Fort Monmouth, the economic impact was expected to be severe. That fear became reality when more than 5,600 jobs were lost or transferred out of New Jersey. Several years after the base closed, there are signs of an economic turnaround in business relocations, housing, and mixed use development at the former base.
“Extraordinary progress has occurred in converting Fort Monmouth into a multi-complex of housing, technology, retail, education, and recreation,” said Freeholder Lillian G. Burry, who was appointed by both Governor Corzine and Governor Christie as the county’s representative to FMERA. “The economic impact when Fort Monmouth closed was significant, but due to the aggressive marketing efforts of FMERA, much has been accomplished. The mixed use development strategy is working and the interest and commitments from the private sector are encouraging.”
FMERA’s biggest success is the relocation of CommVault and its data management operation. More than 900 workers are currently employed at the 650,000-square-foot facility, which will be CommVault’s new world headquarters. When finished, more than 2,500 employees will work at the Tinton Falls facility.
“FMERA’S efforts have shown that Fort Monmouth can be transformed into a totally different use,” said Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone. “The authority has ambitious goals that will benefit Monmouth County’s taxpayers. The time for lamenting the fort’s closing is over. The goal is to convert this base into a planned community that will be unique in New Jersey.”
“Four independent housing developments, four town centers, three technology campuses, two hotels, a marina, and a golf conference center will revitalize the fort,” stated Ms. Burry. “Equally important is the preservation of hundreds of acres of green space. Those who thought this property would turn into a ghost town were wrong. Instead of a setback, FMERA sees the redevelopment project as a huge opportunity. When I was first appointed to FMERPA, after the BRAC closure, I saw an opportunity to take a lemon and turn it into lemonade.”
The authority’s goal is to develop 1,585 housing units; 300,000 square feet of nonprofit, civic, government, and educational space; 500,000 square feet for retail; and two million square feet devoted to offices, research, and other commercial uses. The key to success is targeting firms that specialize in cutting-edge information and communications technologies. FMERA is hoping to capitalize on the area’s high income level, its educated workforce, the convenience to public transportation and the Garden State Parkway, and the fact that young college graduates favor living and working in the area.
FMERA had anticipated constructing housing and retail first, followed by small tech companies and business incubators before attempting to secure corporate anchors. The CommVault project altered the plan. The J.F. Kiley Group will lease office space to other firms and is negotiating to buy and upgrade the onsite pistol range to be opened by the public.
The Monmouth County Park System has opened a public recreation center with an outdoor pool. The Lennare firm has an agreement to convert 50 acres next to CommVault into housing units and a fitness center.
FMERA is soliciting Request for Proposals (RFPs) for additional walkable residential communities, a Main Street “lifestyle center” with two tech campuses. Further, it’s looking to interest buyers to develop a firehouse, chapel, and school and convert approximately one dozen other available buildings.